Researchers may have discovered a new method to predict solar flares more than a day before they occur, providing advance warning to help protect satellites, power grids and astronauts from potentially dangerous radiation.
The system works by measuring differences in gamma radiation emitted when atoms in radioactive elements “decay,” or lose energy. This rate of decay is widely believed to be constant, but recent findings challenge that long-accepted rule.
The new detection technique is based on a hypothesis that radioactive decay rates are influenced by solar activity, possibly streams of subatomic particles called solar neutrinos. This influence can wax and wane due to seasonal changes in the Earth’s distance from the sun and also during solar flares, according to the hypothesis, which is supported with data published in a dozen research papers since it was proposed in 2006, said Ephraim Fischbach, a Purdue University professor of physics.